1953 chevy 53 chevy stardust custom
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This 53's body went through a lot of changes over the years. When I bought her in 1990, she looked mostly original, but had already been through a lot. The previous owner bought her in 1978 as a project for him and his son. They did some not-so-great body work (good old fashioned chicken wire and newspaper behind bondo) and painted the bumpers silver. That was about all that was done for 12 years.

53 chevy hot rod custom bel air
Ideas I had for the Chevy before I made a decision on the fins.

When I first bought her back in May, 1990, I didn't have a lot of money, and just wanted an antique car to drive around in. First I got it running good (with my old man's help, of course). Put a new water pump, fuel pump, rebuilt the carb, tuned it up and got a set of (used) tires on her. I had a lot of trouble with 6-Volt batteries dieing on me. I had to re-do the brakes too, but by September 1990 it was on the road, and the body work was started. Man, was it a pain. I didn't have a garage, so everything I did had to be done...and done before I went to sleep. So if I sanded a fender, I had to prime it before nightfall, outside, under oak and pine trees. I think I spent more time picking bugs out of the primer than I did fixing it up!

There were a lot of chips, deep scratches and rough patches in the paint. I had to sand the hell out of it, then lay heavy coats of primer and sand that down just to get it decent. The roof was so bad I gave up (get ready to cringe) and BRUSH PAINTED high-build primer over it with only a 4 to 1 reduction. Yikes! Took a while to dry, but I was able to sand it smooth and it lasted 12 years like that.

I didn't do any custom work on the body back then. It was hard enough getting it ready for paint. Since I lived in Jersey then, I couldn't work on it for the whole 90-91 winter, so it stayed primer gray till the spring. In March I started up on her again, sanding, fixing holes, fixing the floor (There was a tin wonderbread box from the 60's acting as the backseat passenger side floor) and getting her ready to spray. The chrome was shot, and I didn't have the funds to get it re-done, so I decided on a kind of out-there color scheme. Seafoam Green for the main color with cream white for the Bel-Air panels and roof...and a two-tone metallic chocolate brown and dusty gold combo for the chrome parts. Believe it or not, it looked great. In October of 1991 I finally got her painted (a friend of my Dad's did it for $125 plus $30 for the paint from Crown Auto), and I was on my way.

In the mid 90's some dumb yahoo kid in a van ran a red light and T-boned me on the passenger side. I was fine, but the car had both doors and the pillar pushed in. (The van was wrecked, of course!) Lucky for me a mechanic friend of mine was using a 54 four door for parts for his 54 roadster. He sold me the doors for $75 and even lent me the hydraulic ram to push the pillar out. I never got it quite right (back door is off just a little bit) but considering I did it all myself I'm proud of how well it came out. Those doors stayed yellow for a long time though, and led to my idea to chop out the top, shave the handles and add the fins!

The second time around started when I moved to Florida and bought a house with a two car garage in 2000. Now I had an indoor place to work on her, so it made customizing a lot easier. I was just going to do a quicky job, sand off the bad paint, shoot some new on, but when I got into it I decided to do it right, or at least as best I could. I stripped as much as the old paint off as I needed to. I broke out all the old bondo (including some the other guy had done 30 years ago) and re-did the rust holes with metal, fiberglass and/or new filler (I stuck to the rule of trying to use as little filler as possible). I tore out what was loose in the floors and fiberglassed them, including the trunk. I bought a welder and learned how to do simple welding, then used that knowledge to fix the quarter panels and skirts. I came into some money, so I was able to build the custom continental kit, plus do the engine mods...see the engine page for those details! I finished frenching in the lights, chopped out the top, shaved the door handles, customized the hood and put in the extra grill bullets. While I was doing on this, I was also working on those crazy fins, and everything finally came together into something decent in 2007!

I still have a lot to do. The next big project is finishing the roof. I had to engineer the whole crazy thing myself, but I know how to finish it. Then the Continental kit has to be finished...It's a combination of parts from a 53 Chevy and a 55 Olds, so I have some cutting and welding to do. There are still a couple of small rough spots around the bottom of the trunk and doors, not very noticeable without paint, but they have to get done. Once all that's done, I can finally get her painted. I'm aiming for a dark, rich purple metallic (maybe Plum Crazy with some metalflake!) with blue ghosted flames and a black top and Bel-Air panels. I'd like to get chrome bumpers for her too, and I haven't decided what I'm going to do with the grill. We'll see...

Me with the '53, June, 2000


53 chevy hot rod bel air

2003. Frenched in the tail lights and shaved the door handles, but still no fins. Note the old Mercury tail lights.

53 chevy bel air hot rod

I had to scrape most of the peeling green paint off with a razor, then sand the remaining layers of paint and primer down to the metal in most places.

53 chevy fins

When I started working on the fins, i was still doing other body work, including welding new metal into the door jambs and fixing rust.

53 chevy bel air fins

The sanding was a LOT of work. In most places i had to do it by hand. There were pitted surfaces that needed to be smoothed...that was the hardest to do myself.

53 chevy bel air hot rod fins

Finally in 2005 the fins started taking shape. It took over a year to finish them. Someone gave me the fender skirts 17 years ago. I had to rebuild the wheel wells to get them to fit right.

53 chevy

It was a happy day when I primed the car. I think I shot and sanded five coats of high build, then two coats of primer/sealer.


Still a lot left to do, but at least it looks decent now!